torsdag 30 maj 2013

The Feast of Corpus Christi





Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi, which was always traditionally on a Thursday, reflecting the fact that the Eucharist was instituted on Holy Thursday. Sadly, we shall not be celebrating the feast today as it has been shifted to the Sunday. That breaks loses the connection. It is also a pity to lose these weekday feasts and hopefully it will one day be shifted back to its proper day. Here are the Introit, Sequence and Communion for the Feast, together with the beautiful Ave Verum Corpus by William Byrd.

We are having a special Mass and procession on Sunday. That is an excellent thing. It would be an even better thing if this, the correct music for the feast day, were sung then, and that it was not diluted by music which really did not belong to the feast day or to the Catholic liturgy at all. One lives in hope.

The interview below by Fr Guy Nicholls of the London Oratory puts this clearly.

tisdag 21 maj 2013

Saying the Rosary without falling asleep

The pilgrimage from Skänninge to Vadstena  Saying the Rosary is a good way to get to sleep. In fact, I normally fall asleep when trying to say the Rosary. I rarely get past the first decade. There is something in favour of this if you are trying to sleep. It is safer than tablets, and if it did not work you will have prayed the Rosary, so you win either way, but it is not the point of the prayer. I have now found a solution to the problem.

On Ascension Day I went with a group to Skänninge and after Mass in the church there, we walked to Vadstena, about 12 miles away. Ending at the shrine of St Birgitta, this was a pilgrimage organised by Kardinal Dante-Sällskapet, which was set up by priests from the Institute of Christ the King (IKC) to promote the Tridentine Mass in Sweden; it has the support of the Bishop. Fader Marcus Künkell led the pilgrimage, and on the way, we prayed all fifty decades of the Rosary. So there was no falling asleep even though it was after lunch. The conclusion is to say the prayer whilst walking, which is presumably one of the uses to which monastic cloisters were put.

I learned one further thing. IKC are keen on Latin and so we prayed the Rosary in Latin. It took a while to remember without having to look at the paper sheets with the text on, which had been handed out. Now I have never been too keen on the Rosary in English. One difficulty is that it is too easily said in an Irish accent, or worse still, a parody of an Irish accent. There is also the difficulty with the word "hail" which is what Londoners to when they want to pick up a taxi in the street.

Then I took the trouble to learn it in Swedish but now it has been changed and I cannot remember the new translation. I do not go along with the idea that God only understands prayers if they are said in Latin, or Hebrew or some other special language, but the Latin does have a particular quality which is certainly of help to the one saying the prayer. I recommend giving it a try. The Latin text of the Rosary, the Fatima prayers and the prayers to St Michael can be found here. Future-proof your prayers by saying them in Latin.

fredag 17 maj 2013

I was glad - no alternative to Parry?

I have been complaining lately about the scarcity of Catholic music in the Catholic church locally. I was accused of being small minded and that anyway there was no alternative.

Parry's "I was glad" is to be sung soon at a forthcoming event. This was written for the Coronation of King George V in 1911. It radiates British imperialist bombast in the highest degree. There is a softer setting by Purcell but that was written for the Coronation of King William III in 1695, so it too is hardly suitable for a Catholic liturgy.

"I was glad" is the psalm Laetatus sum. A search on YouTube returned three thousand hits, including lovely settings by Haydn, Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Zelenka, Gorczycki, Michael Haydn, Alessandro Scarlatti, Willaert, to name just a few of the better known composers. There is also, of course, a Gregorian chant setting of the psalm.

No alternative to the Parry? Hardly. But why exactly are we ignoring the treasure in our attic? Have we forgotten it is there?


England's second Reformation - on the ground

This was originally a response to a posting on Fr Blake's blog. Eamon Duffy's "The Stripping of the Altars", dealing with the sixteenth century Reformers in England, has a resonance with events within the Catholic church in the 1980s.

Following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, there was little change in the sound of Catholic liturgy. Organisations such as the Association for Latin Liturgy were established to encourage the continuing use of Latin within the Novus Ordo Mass. During the mid-1980s, however, the use of Latin dwindled, mostly on the initiative of a new generation of priests.

This was largely against the wishes of the laity, since the abolition of Latin in the liturgy would normally result in the immediate loss of about one-third of the congregation, who would then migrate to neighbouring parishes. The process was then repeated when these neighbouring parishes in turn lost their Latin liturgy with the arrival of a new incumbent.

Eventually there was usually nowhere left for them to go unless they lived in one of the large cities and could travel to one of the few remaining parishes where Novus Ordo Masses were celebrated in Latin. Thus, in the end, the characteristic Latin Rite Catholic sound was rarely to be heard.

Locally in the Brighton and Hove area, this is exactly what happened, first at St Peter's Hove when Fr Dickerson retired in 1983, then at St Mary Magdalen's when Fr Flanaghan died in 1990, and finally at Sacred Heart, where Monsignor Stonehill and then Fr Mario had held the fort for so long.

All this was under pressure from the bishop. The principle of "Lex orandi, lex credendi" ie the signifier becomes the signified, means that this amounts to a determined attempt at destruction of faith. From within.

onsdag 15 maj 2013

Post Modernism and Catholicism

Punk Girl #1 by Elmar Eye
Punk Girl #1, a photo by Elmar Eye on Flickr.
In his sermon last Sunday, a local priest put his finger on what must be an important factor in the decline of the Catholic church in Europe. He said that the Second Vatican Council addressed the modern world just as it was moving into the era of Post Modernism. Post Modernism grew out of, amongst other things, the understanding of signs and symbols, through the work of people such as Levi Strauss and Sperber during the 1960s.

The first fruits of this were to be seen in fashion and music, in the Punk movement, which was about the recycling and re-use of signs. It was quickly picked up by, amongst others, the American architect Robert Venturi who wrote an influential book, best known under its revised title "Learning from Las Vegas", published in 1977. This knocked the supports away from the architectural movement known as Modernism, which had come to prominence just before World War 2 and dominated architectural theory until challenged by the Post Modernists such as Venturi.

The irony is that the Catholic church, through its liturgical reforms, deprived itself of much of the language needed to talk to this Post Modern world, just as it was coming into existence. To understand the implications of this, ask yourself where would the Freemasons be if they abandoned their richly symbolic ceremonies?

In the light of this, it is no accident that in UK and here in Sweden, the only growth point in the Catholic church is around the old liturgy, where young people are being converted from atheism. The lesson needs to be learned and acted on.

What should church choirs be singing?

The purpose of a church choir is to sing the music of the church to which it is attached. When people join they expect to sing that music - not, for instance, Irish folk songs. The limitations are part of the deal. If they want to sing Irish folk songs as well then they can join, or set up, another choir that specialises in that.

If you join an Anglican church choir you can expect to spend most of your time singing the characteristic Anglican repertoire - Tallis, Byrd, Gibbons, Purcell, Blow, S S Wesley, Goss, Walmisley, Stainer, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Howells and probably something unpleasant and difficult to sing, by the current resident organist who fancies himself as another Bach. The main services being Matins and Evensong, an Anglican chorister will have to master the technique of Anglican chant. Put that all together in a large vaulted stone building with timber choir stalls and an organ with a solid diapason and you have the authentic Anglican sound which you can hear at a couple of dozen cathedrals from Truro in the south to Durham in the north.

Until the late 1970s in England at least, there was also a characteristic Roman Catholic sound consisting of Gregorian chant with background organ harmonisation, from, eg the Solemnes accompaniments, some polyphony eg Victoria, Palestrina, etc, and the odd more recent piece by, eg Bruckner, Elgar or Duruffle. From a reading of Sacrocanctum Conciilium it is clear that there was never any intention of obliterating this tradition but that is what happened, so that it is only preserved at establishments such as the London Oratory and, more recently, those few parishes where the "Extraordinary Form" has become the main Sunday celebration.

An independent choir can of course sing whatever it likes, though people would naturally want to have a fair idea of the scope of its repertoire before they thought about joining. A choir set up to concentrate on English Tudor church music would be unhappy if it suddenly found itself having to cope with new pieces with continual key changes, accidentals and sour discords.

The BBC Radio 3 programme "Choral Evensong", available on BBC iPlayer, is an excellent coverage of the range of contemporary church music. It is broadcast every Wednesday at around 15.30 and repeated on Sunday afternoons.

måndag 13 maj 2013

Is there such a thing as Catholic music?

Is there such a thing as Catholic music? The question arose because I argued that pieces from Bach's St Matthew's Passion, fine though they were, had no place in the Catholic liturgy. Did this mean that music written by non-Catholics should be excluded? I was accused of being narrow-minded for making such a suggestion.

Surely music used in the Catholic liturgy should be music that was written for the purpose? The Catholic liturgy is not a concert, nor is it a performance. First and foremost, it is prayer. It is not as if there is a shortage of suitable music. In the case of the Good Friday liturgy, for which the St Matthew's Passion piece was suggested, there are, for instance, the well-know Allegri's Miserere and the recent composition by MacMillan.
Another version by Lotti


Adoremus te Christe by Palestrina

Another version by Monteverdi

Crux Fidelis by King John of Portugal

There is wonderful but rarely heard music written for the purpose which is an integral part of the Catholic heritage, yet rarely heard. Surely this should take precedence in the Catholic liturgy over music written for the Lutheran liturgy and which is regularly performed? But an important reason for not using Protestant music is that it is infused with the spirit of Protestantism. There is fine music written for the Anglican church by composers such as Orlando Gibbons, Purcell, Blow, Pelham Humphrey, Weelks, etc. I have a collection of it on my i-Pod but I would not suggest it belongs in the Catholic liturgy, especially if it squeezes out music that was written for the purpose.

Post Modernism and the Second Vatican Council

I heard an interesting sermon this morning. The point made was that "the Second Vatican Council set out to address the problems of Modernism and the rationality that characterised it, but that Modernism itself was soon to be supplanted by Post-Modernism, which is characterised by disorder and chaos, if anything at all."

This could explain a great deal. The liturgical reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council, at their best, led to a liturgy of rationalism. If this is the case, then it is not surprising that the only real growth point within the contemporary Catholic church in Europe is within the Traditionalist movement, for the traditional Catholic liturgy alone is able to reach the dark corners of the human psyche that lurk beneath the surface of rationality.

It was the acknowledgement of the existence of these dark corners that brought about the collapse of Modernism and led to the birth of Post Modernism. There is a fine irony in the notion that traditional Catholic practice, with its rich symbolic vocabulary, is able to engage in the Post Modern cultural environment, whilst the Vatican Council reforms left the Catholic church deprived of the ability to enter contemporary discourse in any meaningful way.

I hope our bishops are noticing.

lördag 11 maj 2013

Gregorian chant - four lines or five?

I have had a reply to a Facebook discussion, arguing that setting Gregorian chant in modern notation will encourage congregations to sing it. I don't know where this idea has come from that people can sing Gregorian chant more easily from modern notation which they are used to. I have looked to see if there is any research on the subject and have found none. Most people of course cannot read music at all and even those that can, cannot sing from a score but have to learn the tune and use the score just as an aid-memoire - which is what I and the majority of choir members do. I cannot even recognise music that I have sung for 40 years when it is set in modern notation.

If people are not used to reading from musical scores they get used to Gregorian notation more easily - I could not read music at all and began with the Gregorian notation and then MOVED ON TO modern notation when it was required. Gregorian notation is best for beginners, and for those that are used to modern notation it takes about ten minutes to explain how Gregorian notation works.

The point then is that the 4-line notation is 20% easier to read for a start because the lines are further apart and it is easier to pick a note from four lines rather than five. And in most cases one of the lines is completely redundant because Gregorian music does not extend over the range provided a five line stave. It is also the case that people like to decide where to pitch their doh, by agreement between them, depending on the state of their voices and the weather, etc. One the music is written out to a definite pitch, choir directors tend to use that as a weapon and refuse to make accommodation to people's wishes. A further issue is that the Gregorian notation indicates the shape of the music phrases, and so it is easier to recognise music and phrases within the music, that one has sung before.

A further issue is that there are variations in the dynamics of the music that are not indicated in modern notation eg the difference between square notes and diamonds. These are critical to the sound. Without them, the characteristic "wave" quality of the music does not come out and the music sounds flat and boring, which gets it a bad reputation.

That is not all. If modern notation is used, it takes up more space, and also spreads the text out along the lines in separate syllables. It is then no longer possible to apprehend it as text, which is disastrous seeing that it is the text that is important and the music is essentially ornamentation of the text to give emphasis to certain words and phrases.

måndag 6 maj 2013

What is a Catholic church choir for?


At our choir in Hove we used to sing an old hymn, with a dreary tune and well over-the-top words by the Ultramontane Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman, the first Archbishop of Westminster, called "Full in the panting heart of Rome". It must be the ultimate in Catholic kitsch music. "Panting hearts", as we called it, became a standing joke, but then it was probably done as a joke in the first place. I suspect that the original Catholic triumphalist text was tongue-in-cheek, as the music came from the Calvinist Scottish psalter. We would laugh about it in the pub afterwards. We did not give up singing just because we did not like the music now and again.

However, I gave up on the current choir a couple of weeks ago, and that was for the reason that the choir director had got the idea into his head that I was a bass singer, and there was nothing that I could say that would change his mind.

It simply does not do to push singers into music that is physically difficult for them to sing. It is perfectly possible for a singer to work slightly out of his or her normal range but the trouble arises when this has to be done repeatedly, for example during rehearsals. Then they will end up with a sore throat. Unfortunately, the problem was compounded because this director's rehearsal style was to carry on with repeating the same piece of music over and over and over again, until voices were strained, tempers were frayed, and the choir members were thoroughly sick of hearing it - which he didn't seem to have noticed.

Following all of this, I received a nice letter from the director of the choir thanking me for my services and suggesting that the real reason I left the choir was his choice of the music. It is perfectly true that I did not like his choice of music, but I would not have given up for that reason. As a choir member you expect from time to time to have to sing things that you will dislike, though you pick your choir on the basis that it sings the type of music you want to sing. You laugh off the odd nasty, as we did last year with the contemporary Swedish composer Ulf Samuelsson who has a predeliction for writing sugary stuff garnished with discords that taste sour in the mouth.

But since the matter of the choice of music was raised, it is worth exploring. One joins a choir to sing the type of music for which the choir was established, just as one goes to, say a sushi restaurant to eat suchi and would not be well pleased to be served up with eggs and bacon.

In the case of a Catholic church choir, one expects to sing Catholic church music. This is not a matter to be settled by the choir director's preferences or a democratic consensus. Most of it is, or should be, predictable. There is little scope for choice or discussion.

Catholic church music must be chosen in accordance with the principles laid down in Sacrosanctum Concilium, the document that was issued after the Second Vatican Council. Thus, the texts would, for a start, include the Latin propers, if possible sung to the tunes given in the Graduale Romanum, or in psalm tone if the correct tunes were too difficult for the choir. There might be some polyphony, again, depending on the abilities of the choir. The choir would lead the congregation in the singing of the Ordinary of the Mass, again, normally in Latin, according to the season. It would expect to be singing most Sundays and festival days, and, ideally, it would be available for weddings and funerals.

If the Entrance Antiphon is sung, as it should be since it forms part of the readings, the Mass provides just three other occasions for singing, at the Offertory and Communion, and at the recessional. Whilst congregational hymns might be chosen, in practice, people are seated at the Offertory and Communion and are not going to sing with any enthusiasm or vigour. Besides which, at the Offertory congregations are fumbling in their wallets or purses, and at the Communion, they are not in their places or are meditating after having received the Sacrament, so neither time is appropriate for singing. So the Offertory and Communion are good opportunities for the choir to sing. Panting Hearts can come at the end as light relief.

What is highly questionable is whether there is any place for music of Lutheran, Anglican or Nonconformist origin in the Catholic liturgy? There is no denying that it is popular, and some of it of high quality, but music does not exist in the abstract. It carries values and beliefs, and Protestant music carries Protestant values and beliefs. In the case of Lutheran music, it was carefully conceived to put across the notion that it was NOT-Catholic. It really needs to be weeded out from the Catholic liturgy. The same applies to hymns of Anglican origin written in the later nineteenth century, which carry the values of British Empire triumphalism.

Directors of Catholic choirs need to be aware of these nuances.

torsdag 2 maj 2013

How to do it

The Pilgrimage to Vadstena by Elmar Eye
The Pilgrimage to Vadstena, a photo by Elmar Eye on Flickr.
The Bishop of Stockholm, a Carmelite, came to Göteborg today and gave a talk about how Pope John Paul II had been influenced by Carmelite spirituality. He referred in particular to St Teresa of Avila, St John of the Cross, St Saint Teresia Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), and the spiritual significance and value of the Dark Night of the Soul.

He did things the right way too - with a celebration of Mass and a ten minute sermon, and a 50 minute lecture after the Mass. We also had the opportunity for a buffet supper afterwards which was an enjoyable social occasion.

The Journey East #2

The state of the Catholic Church A few years ago I visited Riga, the capital of Latvia. At 9.30 in the evening, a crowd of young people cam...